Spelt Blueberry Scones

Scones

I know. It’s the last work day for many before Memorial Day. What I should be posting is something grilled, something smokey, something messy. Memorial Day is for drinking cans of beer around the grill. It’s for the first picnic and the first mosquito bites of the year. It’s for paper plates and for smelling like campfire. And instead I’m posting some very staid, very proper, very British scones.

To be fair, I’ve never really felt the need for Memorial Day recipes. I leave the grilling to someone else, and generally bring a salad and/or dessert. Maybe you’re the same. But I am always here for scones.

The summer before we left for England Aaron came over to my parent’s house and we made scones together. I’ve since lost the recipe, but it was in metric measurement and I had badly translated it to imperial measurements. It was hot in the kitchen and the butter was not cold. We (mostly me) made a terrific mess. The scones turned out crumbly and lumpy but somehow still tasty.

In England we ate scones mostly in tea rooms. Most of them were cramped, old-fashioned places where we would duck into for a pick me up while traveling. They were uniformly good- a pot of milky tea and a cream scone is an excellent fortifier for the broke and slightly lost traveler. The china inevitably was flowered and the tables tended to be draped in pink and there would be a clatter of accents filling the air. They were relaxing places where despite our massive backpacks we would not feel like tourists for a little bit.

When I miss England I sometimes bake scones. These scones wouldn’t be found in tea rooms. They’re a bit more modern than that, a bit brighter. They have spelt flour for a bit of heft, crystalized ginger for a treat, lemon zest for brightness, and blueberries for a summery celebration of my homeland. You could happily drink them with a pot of milky tea, but they also paired fantastically with my green tea this morning. It’s been wet and rainy here recently, which is surely why England’s on my mind. I’d advise you to make these soon, before it becomes too hot to turn on the oven, and thoughts of England have turned to Pim’s cups.

Spelt- Blueberry Scones

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

If you wanted a more traditional blueberry scone it would be easy to use 2 cups of all-purpose flour and omit the crystalized ginger. If you do go that route, I would start checking the scones at 12 minutes.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup diced crystalized ginger.
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
5 tablespoons butter, frozen
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 425.

In a large bowl whisk together the flours, crystalized ginger, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Use your fingers to break make sure the ginger and lemon zest are well-distributed and not sticking together. Using a cheese grater, grate the frozen butter directly into the flour mixture. Mix well. Pour over the cream and add in the blueberries. Using a rubber spatula stir until the cream is evenly distributed.

Turn out onto a clean surface. Pat the dough into an even circle. Slice the circle half, then quarters, and then into eight even pieces. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake the scones until they are firm to the touch and the edges are starting to get a bit of color, 15-17 minutes. Cool and serve.

 

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Kale Caesar Salad

Kale Caesar

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about health and “healthy food”. A friend posted this article from Vice on her Facebook a few days back and ever since I’ve seen it four or five times. It’s just in time for the annual summer Pinterest parade of “clean eating” exhortations and magazine promises of an instant bikini body. ‘Tis the season to obsessively police our food choices.

It’s exhausting to keep up with the ever changing list of what foods are considered healthy and which are not. I like to think that I eat relatively well. I don’t drink pop, don’t buy potato chips, and don’t like a wide variety of less nutritious foods, from deli meats to deviled eggs. I love vegetables and happily eat bowls of beans for snacks. But I also don’t juice, don’t spiralize, and eat a glorious array of gluten. And by the metrics of some clean-eating advocates that’s tantamount to poisoning my body.

In the aforementioned article there was this wise quote from the venerable Nigella Lawson. “I despair of the term ‘clean eating,'” she said, “though I actually like the food that comes under that banner. [‘Clean eating’] necessarily implies that any other form of eating—and consequently the eater of it—is dirty or impure and thus bad, and it’s not simply a way of shaming and persecuting others, but leads to that self-shaming and self-persecution that is forcibly detrimental to true healthy eating.”

It’s very true. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to opt out of this culture of self critique. The other day I was testing cookies at work. I work under a brilliant chef who does not like sweets, and so he outsources the bulk of dessert creation to a handful of line cooks. I’m one of them. He tells me what he wants and I make something that fits the parameters. I tinker, bring him what’s good, he critiques, I tinker again. It’s a system that works pretty well. He only has to try what’s good, and I get paid to play with dough. In this case he wanted an almond flour chocolate chip cookie with a particular chew, which led to me playing with a variety of flour ratios, proportions of brown to white sugar, fat content by butter verses fat content by egg, and baking time. And I had to test the results of all these cookies, so I ate the equivalent of three or four cookies over an eight hour shift. I then felt guilty for eating “all that sugar”.

Let me restate that again. I felt guilty for doing what I’m paid to do, and something that I truly enjoy- developing recipes- because I ate a handful of cookies. Cookies that had 10 grams of sugar each, or about 2 1/2 teaspoons. I don’t believe that’s a healthy amount to eat every day, but I don’t eat cookies every day. I felt guilty even though I know you can’t deprive your way to health, that nutrition is complex, and that while white sugar may not be the best thing you can eat it’s not the devil.

I like to go back to Michael Pollen’s brilliant mantra when I’m in this spin zone. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It’s easy to remember, and doable. And it’s adaptable. No matter how much wellness blogs praise the avocado that doesn’t change the fact that here in the Midwest the cost routinely tops two dollars for a single avocado, which makes it an occasional treat for me rather than a dietary mainstay. So I don’t eat avocados often. I will, however, throw walnuts into everything and have an infinite variation  of kale.

To point, I made this kale caesar salad for lunch the day that I ate those fateful cookies. It was a nice counterpoint- hearty and salty and luscious. The bitterness of the kale stands up nicely to the creamy, sharp dressing in a way that a more delicate green would not. It’s an excellent lunch salad. It’s hearty enough to keep me going for hours, but not so heavy that it feels like too much. I made it when Aaron had a coworker over. They both ate the salad as a side to brats, and I ate a big bowl of salad (with a side of tortilla chips and salsa). Between the three of us the bowl was swiped clean. I didn’t make it to be an apology for eating cookies. I made it because it’s delicious.

I think that’s the key to actual wellness- to take pleasure in more nutritious food, and to enjoy less nutritious food in a measured amount. There are some days that need a bowl of fresh strawberries, and some days that need a leisurely walk for to the local ice cream shop for a scoop of ice cream. That it’s probably wise to do the former more often, but there’s no shame or guilt in indulging in the later.

Kale Caesar Salad

A microplane will be your best friend with this recipe. They’re commonly used to grate citrus zest, hard cheese, and nutmeg, but it’s also the fastest and cleanest way I know to make garlic paste. If you don’t have a microplane or a very small grater, you could mince the garlic or pound it into a paste. I like this salad best with pecorino romano, but if you can’t find it parmesan would be a happy substitute. Because this dressing uses a whole egg, it will only keep for a few days in the refrigerator, so as be generous with the dressing as you want.

dressing proportions inspired by Judy Rodgers’ via Orangette

Croutons

6 ounces sourdough bread, sliced and torn into bite sized pieces
2 cloves of garlic, microplaned
2 tablespoons butter

Dressing

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dark miso
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves of garlic, microplaned
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1 egg
1/4 cup finely grated (or microplaned) pecorino romano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 or 2 bunches of lacinato kale, spines removed and leaves torn
pecorino romano, for shaving

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the torn sourdough pieces in a large bowl. In a small saucepan melt together the butter and the garlic. Pour over the sourdough pieces and toss well to evenly combine. Pour out onto a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 16 minutes, tossing the croutons halfway. When the croutons are finished they should be dark around the edges and golden, and smell of toasted garlic. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the red wine vinegar, miso, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Mix well. Add the egg, cheese, salt and pepper and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

In a salad bowl top the kale with the caesar dressing. Massage the dressing into the kale, making sure to toss the leaves well. Set aside for a bit so the dressing can permeate the leaves of the kale.

Top the salad with the croutons and shavings of pecorino romano. Toss well and eat.

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Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Miso Aioli

Fries

Mayonnaise. It’s a component in so many things- deviled eggs, all sorts of not-salad salad sandwiches (chicken, tuna, etc.), dressings, sauces, and apparently Ina Garten’s pesto recipe (thanks Anne!). It’s creamy and mild. Who doesn’t love mayo?

I don’t. I’ve never liked it. I’ve never liked the way it coats my mouth as I eat it, the way it jiggles, the eggy aftertaste. I’ve also never liked ketchup, which is a whole different story. Sufficient to say, I’m generally not condiment friendly.

But I love aioli. And I can hear those among you who are familiar with food exclaiming, “Aioli? It’s just flavored mayonnaise”. And you’re correct. But for whatever reason, aioli is different to me. Perhaps it’s that I make it by hand, so it’s looser than mayonnaise and doesn’t have the same jiggle factor. Perhaps the flavorings (generally garlic) cover up the eggy aftertaste. Or perhaps all the whisking makes me hungry. But regardless of the reason, I love aioli, and mostly eat it at home. And aioli is best consumed with fries.

The tension inherent there, that I prefer to make my aioli and eat it with fries, is that frying fries at home is a headache. Everything smells of oil, it splatters everywhere, and I have to monitor the temperature pretty closely. I’ve done it, but only once or twice. And there’s the fact that the fries are not any better than those you can find in a restaurant. And there’s the whole issue of whatever metric you’re using to determine the nutritional value of the food you consume, you’re getting a lot of oil by deep frying fries and dipping them in an oil-egg emulsion. I want to be clear that I will still eat fries and aioli with this information on hand. But that pushes it out of a regular treat and into a “sometimes” food.

The best compromise I’ve found is to bake my fries, which requires a bit of technique. If you just throw strips of potato (or sweet potato, as is the case here) into a hot oven, by the time the middle cooks through the whole thing is a soggy mess. Those fries are not worthy of the term fries, much less to be dipped in aioli. But if you boil the fries first, the middles are cooked through before they are baked. And then you can take them for a jaunt in a hot oven, where they’ll get delightfully crispy. They may not be as addictive as hot fries doused in salt straight out of the fryer, but they are still very good. And I’m a firm believer that compromise is one of the keys to a good life.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

2 large sweet potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch batons
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt
pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water and add the sweet potatoes. Boil for 8 minutes, until the batons are tender. Drain. Let the sweet potatoes dry. (I used a cooling rack laid over a cookie sheet.)

When the sweet potatoes are dry preheat the oven to 450. Toss the sweet potatoes with the olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake, tossing the sweet potatoes with a spatula once, until crispy, between 30 and 40 minutes.

Miso Aioli

The first step to making a successful aioli is to not be afraid of the aioli. My very unscientific survey has revealed that aioli can smell fear, and if you go into it thinking it will break it most certainly will. I’ve had the best luck while making aioli using a small bowl and a small whisk. If your bowl moves around a lot, it might be a good idea to place the bowl on top of a damp towel to stabilize it. Make sure to pour the oil slowly- it’s better to go too slow than too fast.  And finally, if you get tired, you can stop pouring the oil for a bit, but don’t stop whisking.

2 tablespoons miso
2 teaspoons water
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup canola oil

 

Meanwhile make the aioli. In a small bowl combine the miso and the water and whisk (making sure to use a whisk, and not a fork) well until it creates a smooth paste. Add in the egg yolk, and whisk until combined. Combine the two oils into a container that can easily be poured, like a liquid measuring cup with a spout or lip. And then whisk the egg yolk while slowly pouring in the oil in a thin stream.

Be sure to keep whisking, and to pour the oil very slowly. The oil may look like it’s not combining at first, but if you stop pouring the oil and keep whisking it will. Whisk continuously while streaming in the oil, and once it’s all added in whisk until you have a smooth mass. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (adding a drop of vinegar, or a hint of salt, for instance, if you think the aioli needs it).

If you’d like a thicker, more mayonnaise-y aioli, you could whisk in more oil into your aioli.

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Black Bean Tacos with Mango Salsa

Tacos 3

I love beans. I throw them into salads, eat them in burrito bowls, and add them to soups. I’ve paired beans close relative, lentils, with pasta, twice. I’ve been known to eat a bowl of beans as a snack. We stockpile cans of beans in our pantry and keep a handful of 4 quart mason jars filled with dried beans at all times. And there’s almost always a carton of almost finished hummus lurking in our refrigerator.

There’s a lot to love about beans. They’re intensely good for you. Beans have been linked in cross-cultural studies with longevity. They’re nutrient dense. They have a fair bit of both protein and fiber, which is good for feeling satisfied and energy. But for me, these are bonuses. I love the immense variety of beans, the colors that vary from eggshell white to inky black, to burnt red to playful speckles. I love the ritual of cooking beans, of soaking beans overnight and then simmering in aromatics the next day, checking every so often to see how luscious the beans are. I love the creamy, soothing quality they have, and the way that beans are always happy to be a supporting player to a dish. I love that they come off as unassuming, but with the right companions can be coaxed into greatness. And I love how quick they are.

I know. I was just talking about soaking and slowly simmering beans. And to be fair, that’s not an instantaneous task. But beans can still be quick. I cook beans once a week so I can throw them into anything whenever I don’t have time to make a full meal. But if you haven’t cooked beans, or have and already used them up, canned beans are an excellent substitute.

I am very interested in living well, and not so interested in living in purity. Dried beans are my favorite, for taste and customization. But canned beans are still delicious and cheap and quick. And if they are less delicious and cheap than dried beans, that’s fine. If my compromise is canned beans I still come out the winner.

To whit, these tacos I made one warm night last week. I was my day off and Aaron had just finished work. We took a brisk walk to a bar that used to be our place when we were 23 and broke and confused. We befriended the bartenders there and would  routinely stay out too late and spend too much money and get free shots. Now our place has changed, and we only occasionally stay out too late and spend too much money and get free shots. Times have changed. But our old place has an excellent patio so we made the trek to sit outside and drink gin cocktails in the sunlight. On our way back we stopped to grab limes, cilantro, mangos, and cotija at our co-op. Twenty minutes of simmering and assembly later we had these drippy, bright, beautiful tacos on our plates. They’re sweet with the mango salsa and tart with lime juice and have a hint of spice from the fresnos. Aaron inhaled them. I closed my eyes while chewing. Canned beans saved the day, or at least the dinner, once again.

Tacos

Black-Bean Tacos with Mango Salsa

If you wanted to make these with dried beans, then I’d use about a cup and a half of beans with some of their cooking broth. If you were making these said dried beans from scratch I’d definitely throw in some cilantro while the beans are cooking.

Serves 4

1 fifteen-ounce can black beans
1 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves and stems
1/2 cup lime juice (about 3 limes)
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt

2 mangos, diced
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 chopped red onion (about 1/4 large)
2 fresno peppers, diced
3 tablespoons of lime juice (about 1 lime)
1/2 teaspoon salt

corn tortillas
lettuce, sliced into ribbons
cotija, crumbled

In a medium saucepan combine the black beans with their liquid, 1 cup cilantro, 1/2 cup lime juice, cumin, and teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer and stir well. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, until the liquid has reduced to a saucy consistency. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

In a medium bowl combine the mangos, cilantro, red onion, fresnos, lime juice, and salt. Stir well. Set aside.

To serve tacos, warm the tortillas in a low oven, in a skillet, or in a microwave. Dollop on the beans, top with lettuce and cotija, and finish with the salsa.

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Sparkling Lavender Lemondade

Lemonade

I didn’t mean to make an on topic recipe. I just wanted a sparkling, floral, slightly sweet, slightly tart drink that I could enjoy as spring finally unfolds. Innocent intentions. And then Beyoncé dropped an opus, and the internet hasn’t stopped talking since. I’d recommend reading this article about Warsan Shire, whose poetry appears throughout the visual album. I definitely know I’ll be ordering her collection when it’s released.

The other big music story of late was Prince’s death. I always liked Prince. He was never the soundtrack to my life, but I grew up after his commercial heyday and I still knew every word to Kiss and 1999. He lived most of his life in Minnesota, and it was surreal and incredible to see how the state reacted to his death. Buildings across Minneapolis were bathed in purple light and there were all night dance parties at First Avenue, the club he made famous. Our local radio station played all Prince for 26 hours. Both restaurants I worked at put their playlists on hold to tune in. It was astonishing to hear the depth of music he had put out, and how good it all was. A lot of articles have been written about him, but this one gave such a good insight into what he was like, and how he ate.

Outside of music news, I’ve just taken a deep dive into What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi. It’s an astonishing book, twisting and turning between stories. It’s written by someone in complete confidence of her ability and it’s so.good. Check it out if you like good books, but especially if you like gothic fairy tales.

If you need a drink while reading, or just want something bright and refreshing, may I suggest this sparkling lavender lemonade? It may be a bit early for lemonade, which is generally thought of as a summer drink. But the temperature has been lingering in the 40s and above for the past few weeks, and in Minneapolis if it’s not snowing it’s patio weather. This lemonade is slightly sweet and slightly tart, and is best drunk in some proximity to fresh air.

Happy May, and Happy Tuesday.

Sparkling Lavender Lemonade

I find lavender flowers in the bulk spice section at my local grocery store, but I imagine they could also be found in jarred spices or by teas. If you can’t find lavender flowers, you could easily follow this template of infused syrup, lemon, and sparkling water to make your own type of lemonade. I imagine that a thyme lemonade, in particular, would be fantastic.

Serves 2

6 tablespoons lavender syrup (see recipe below)
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) lemon juice (about 2 small lemons)
2 cups sparkling water

Stir together the syrup, lemon juice, and sparkling water. Pour over ice into two glasses. Enjoy near an open window, or even better, outside.

Lavender Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lavender flowers

In a small saucepan combine the sugar and water and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes. Stir in the lavender flowers, and steep for about 2 hours. Strain and cool in the refrigerator.

 

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